It is one of the most modern cities in the world. Shanghai, with its 24 million residents. But in an authoritarian state, that also means a lot of people to manage. And one of the best ways to keep an eye on things is through video surveillance.
Of course, that’s not how political leaders sell it. They say Shanghai is a 21st century, smart city using AI, facial recognition, and big data. And they hope to expand the system across the country. DW’s Mathias Bölinger gained very special access to where all this monitoring takes place.
Employees of a surveillance center called “city brain” in Shanghai’s Pudong district have direct control over cameras that cover almost every corner of the district.
In the background artificial intelligence scans the footage for rulebreakers.
On a construction site it has identified a worker who is not wearing his helmet.
Besides camera footage, the system also collects data from the city administration and property management.
The government wants to create a powerful tool to govern the city and its citizens. Sheng Dandan is one of the designers of the system that has been operating since 2018.
The “city brain’s” employees have access to more than 290.000 cameras.
And that’s at just one hub of what the government envisions as a nationwide network. It’s part of a development that the government advances steadily.
The goal is 100 percent camera coverage at all important places like train stations, crossroads, parks.
Pudong, Shanghais central business district is but one of many places that have such extensive data and surveillance infrastructure. There is little opposition from the public to the all-seeing system. Pudong’s city brain not only collects surveillance footage, but also detailed data about each household in the city. Since the COVID outbreak, it’s employees were given an additional task: The data is used to ensure citizens are observing their quarantine.
Projects like Pudong’s city brain show that China’s government sees data as a means of control. The pandemic has only advanced these ambitions.
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